Merry Christmas, Mr. Poker

“Christmas?  Bah humbug!  And I’ll have a bah hamburger, please.”

Jarvis Poker, the British Joker, grinned politely at the bemused waitress as she absently scribbled down his order.  Bemusement was an appropriate response one might have to Mr. Poker, alongside bafflement, bewilderedness or, indeed, befuddlement.  For this portly, rather camp middle-aged gentleman never seemed to leave the house without a liberal dose of purple dye in his hair and generous lashings of white greasepaint on his face, and had a wardrobe that made him look like a particularly dapper expatriate from the set of LazyTown.  Jarvis Poker was what many kindly called a “tribute act” (and what a few unkind souls called a “rip-off”) of Gotham’s most feared supervillain, The Joker.  Fortunately for our bemused, table-waiting heroine, Mr. Poker lacked the homicidal tendencies of his American muse, and was not really viewed as a criminal by most people.  Instead, Jarvis Poker was a singularly British cultural oddity: an unknown obscurity to the wider world, but beloved and cherished by anyone with a soul and a song in their heart on the shores of his native island.  A bit like Take That, then.

“And I shall have the Caesar salad, thank you very much… Amy.”

Amy – for truly that was her name – giggled like a schoolgirl as she turned to face the handsome man at the other side of the table.  At the very least, she supposed he was handsome, based on his square jaw and smiling mouth.  The rest of his face was hidden behind a steel visor.  This man’s attire was perhaps even more eccentric than his friend’s – a mix of armour and spandex, with a cape that he was currently sitting on – but this did not seem to register with bemused, besotted Amy.  He knew her name!  Someone as important as him had talked to her, and smiled at her, and asked her for a Caesar salad, and he even cared enough to find out her name!  Actually, he had read her nametag.

“Coming right up, Knight!”

And so Amy skipped off into the kitchen and out of our story, allowing us to return to our key players.  The Knight was one of the most popular, celebrated superheroes of the United Kingdom.  Ostensibly, he was the Batman of Britain, but his approach to crime-fighting and the way he was received by the general public made him an entity quite distinct from the grim, shadowy figure that inspired first his father, then him, to don his heroic mantle.  For example, unlike the Batman of Gotham City, Knight had never been much good at maintaining a secret identity.  The residents of Great Worden, Wordenshire were all aware that he was really Cyril Sheldrake – the rather posh young man that lived in the big castle overlooking the village – and that his sidekick Squire was well-liked local girl Beryl Hutchinson, but they all kept up the pretence of not knowing this out of good manners and fondness for the pair.  Knight’s difference in demeanour might also have helped to explain why at this moment he was in a quiet cafe in Great Worden, drinking tea with his supposed arch-nemesis.

“Surely you can’t hate Christmas, Jarvis,” Knight said in belated reply to Mr. Poker’s earlier remark, “A chance for us all to forget about our problems and troubles, to give to others and show our appreciation for people we care about.  And you get to eat too much and watch the Doctor Who special on the telly.”

Mr. Poker let out a tut-tut while sipping down a mouthful of tea, and let it be known that doing both simultaneously takes some skill.

“I must say I’m disappointed, my dear Knight,” Jarvis huffed, “I thought you an intelligent fellow, yet you too have been sucked into the marketing machine.  Christmas is about emptying our wallets.  It’s all a big con, predicated on us buying into this illusion of giving and… togetherness.  When really all it does is remind us of how alone and miserable we are on the rest of the year, and make us wonder what makes this day more special than the rest of them.”

“Goodness gracious,” replied Knight, “For a clown you really are a grumpy sod, aren’t you?  Sounds to me like your problem is everyone else enjoying Christmas more than you.”

“Oh, so I take it you’ve got your big, exciting Crimbo plans all lined up then?”

Knight shrugged and nodded, taking a careful sip of tea.  Mr. Poker sat anxiously, tapping his fingers on the table, waiting for his heroic foe to take the hint.

“Well if that’s the case,” added Jarvis, pressing the matter further, “Why don’t you invite me your big castle soiree this year?  Show me what supposed fun I’m missing.”

“Eh…”

“Eh!?” exclaimed Jarvis, “What is this eh of which you speak!?”

“Well, um, you see,” Knight muttered, apparently to his teacup, “Squire has invited me to her home for Christmas this year, and it would be rude of me to just bring someone else along to her home without asking her…”

“Well why don’t you ask her?” suggested Jarvis, trying too hard to sound casual, “I can think of worse ways to spend a day than antagonising your little friend.”

And now Knight was staring so intently at the brown liquid in his cup that he risked chipping the china on the edge of his visor.

“Ah…b-but her house is, well… it’s ruh-really too small to ah… accommodate any more guests,” he sputtered, “And my superhero code of ethics forbids me from officially revealing Beryl’s secret identity to you, so letting you into her home just isn’t practical, you see.  I’m very sorry.”

Jarvis Poker smiled politely in resignation.

“It’s alright,” he said, “I’m not fussed, really, it was just a suggestion…”

“Oh, it was a good suggestion,” Knight interceded, “If it was up to me, of course I’d have you round for Christmas, but… you know…sorry…”

“Really, you don’t need to apologise,” said Jarvis, patting Knight on the arm, “I’ve got plenty of invitations to go to all manner of swanky dos.  If I really feel like a night out I can just R.S.V.P. to one of those.  If I can be bothered.”

“Well that’s good.”

Then Jarvis Poker and the Knight sat in silence for a few awkward moments, Knight yearning for the return of What’s-Her-Name with the Caesar salad to break the ice.

“Christmas, who needs it?” Jarvis sighed, “What a waste of time.”

The following morning, Jarvis Poker embarked on the early morning walk that had become part of his daily routine.  He always went the same route: through the streets, cutting through the park, perhaps stopping at the local shop for a morning paper and a packet of Rolos.  He said he liked to do it for the fresh air and the exercise, but in truth he liked it for the attention.  Being a costumed criminal who did not partake in any actual crime, walking around in costume for people to point and stare at largely amounted to the peak of his duties.

But today was slightly different than the norm, in that the pavements and roads were lined in a white sheet of snow, making his surroundings feel serene and barren in equal measure.  Most of the old ladies he enjoyed passing and saying hello to when they crossed paths daily had wisely decided to remain indoors, and it felt like he alone had been stupid enough to venture out into the cold.

“Oh well,” Jarvis muttered to himself, “When life gives you lemons…”

Mr. Poker halted long enough to build a large, totem-like snowpenis in the street, then headed home to his spacious London home: shockingly, not always an oxymoron.

He was playing the part of the Christmas-hating cynic, so someone like Knight might have been surprised to see that Mr. Poker’s home was filled with a spectacular range of Christmas decorations, with tinsel and fairy lights lining the walls and a massive tree as the centrepiece in his living room.  But still it felt cold and empty to him, because now he was alone in this house.  His beloved mother – Agnes Poker, a British smoker – had died of lung cancer in the summer.  Christmas had always been a family occasion for Jarvis, and he loved having his mother round to stay for the holiday season, which the two always spent together.  Her sad departure had most inconvenienced him, in that now he – such a creature of routine – now found himself grasping to make alternative Christmas arrangements.

“One cannot spend Christmas by himself!  What a depressing thought!”

Mr. Poker regularly talked to himself when alone.  As a supervillain, he felt it his duty to keep well-versed in his monologue prowess whenever he had a quiet moment.

“No, this will not do!  I simply need to get inventive.  I know plenty of interesting people.  Surely if can get their attention, one of them will think to invite me over for Christmas!  When sending out their Christmas cards, they will remember the name of…. Jarvis Poker!  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

A lot of people assumed that The Milkman only used his familiar white uniform as a costumed identity while fighting crime.  But in fact, he was actually a milkman, and simply used his work clothes while moonlighting as a local superhero.  He had been a milkman long before he had become an active superhero, and remained one even now in his twilight years, when he’d slowed down on the whole world-saving business.  Having finished his morning rounds, he returned home, where his faithful wife Sue had prepared a full English breakfast for him.

“Mornin’ Sue, me love,” he said cheerfully, hanging up his coat and hat and giving her a kiss, “It’s right cold out there I tell thee.”

“Did you bring the milk, Ernie?”

Smiling, The Milkman produced a glass bottle from the pocket of the hanging coat.

“Fresh off the cart, me love.”

“Oh good,” his wife replied, “There are glasses on the table, me dear.  Pour us out some milk to have with our brekkers.”

“Right-ho.”

The Milkman poured out a glass each, one for himself and one for Sue, then popped what remained of the bottle into the fridge.  He sat himself down just as Sue placed a plate piled with fried egg, bacon, sausages, black pudding and fried pancakes in front of him.

“Mmmmm, that’s the stuff,” The Milkman purred.

Sue sat down at the small two-person table across from him, armed with a plate of her own.  Both tucked in.

“Nothin’ like a good fry-up to warm the blood I say,” Sue chirped.

“Mmm, mfff dfffnly,” answered The Milkman, “Dlllsh ath evrr.”

His mouth was full.

“Christmas is right around the corner,” Sue added, “I think we’ve got all our presents sorted out, just need to get them to people before the day comes.”

“I’m meeting Salt of the Earth for a game of bowls on Friday,” The Milkman answered, his mouth now clear, “I’ll get his gifts from us to him then.”

“How’s Salty keeping these days anyway?” Sue asked, “Haven’t seen him since that little health scare.”

“Oh he’s fine,” replied The Milkman, taking his glass of milk, “Doctors just said he needs to lower his salt intake.  Believe that’s what they call i-ron-ee…”

The Milkman took a large mouthful of milk, then promptly spat it all out over his wife’s face.

“Ernie!”

“I’m sorry, Sue, but that…. that milk’s semi-skimmed, that is!  I’m sure of it!”

“Crikey!  Well now I understand why you spat it out!”

“If there’s one thing I know, me love,” sputtered The Milkman, wiping his mouth, “It’s milk.  I know semi-skimmed when I taste it, I do!  But I know, for a fact, that this came from the full-fat milk batch!  Where’s this mix-up comin’ from, eh?”

As if on cue, the phone rang.

“I’ll get it!” exclaimed Sue, jumping out of her chair and leaving a dribbling trail of milk in her wake as she jogged over to the phone.

“Hello… yes… yes, he’s right here… one moment.”

Pressing the receiver against her chest, SUe turned to her husband.

“It’s fat Miss Pratt from Batt Street, Ernie,” she whispered, “Says she wants to talk to you.”

“Wants to talk to me now, does she?” asked The Milkman as he stood up and approached the phone, “Wonder what it could be.  She switched to semi-skimmed milk a while back to try and cut down on fat.  A lost cause, I say.”

The Milkman took the phone from his wife, holding it to his ear.

“Hello Miss Pratt… yes, it’s The Milkman… I see…I see… I see…. well I’ll be sure to fix that… g’day.”

Hanging up the phone, The Milkman looked at Sue with a concerned expression on his face.

“That was fat Miss Pratt from Batt Street,” he said.

“I know.”

“She said that she just had full-fat milk in her cereal.  And when she got a taste of that thick, creamy full-fat goodness on her lips, she couldn’t stop guzzling it until she’d emptied the bottle and the cat’s saucer.”

“That poor woman.”

“Somebody has switched my bottles!  They put all the full-fat milk in my delivery route into semi-skimmed bottles, and all the semi-skimmed milk into full-fat bottles.”

“That’s awful!” Sue cried, “Who would do such a thing!?”

“Who would make a community doubt their own milkman?  What kind of a fiend would come up with such a nefarious – yet largely benign – scheme?”

“JARVIS POKER!”

The Milkman had uncovered Jarvis Poker’s New Secret Lair (at least that’s what the big sign outside said) and now found the white-faced rogue lounging in an armchair, dunking Oreos in a glass of milk.

“Yes?”

“I know what you’ve been up to,” The Milkman grumbled, “What other villain would take the time to tamper with my milk supply, but not bother poisoning it or doing anything really horrible?”

“I was thinking of spiking every bottle with salt or vinegar, but that would have been too nasty.”

“Well, you’ve got my attention,” The Milkman said, folding his arms, “What do you want?”

Mr. Poker grinned, scoffing the rest of his Oreo and downing the milk.

“Aaah.  It’s simple, Milkman.  I want… an invite to your house for Christmas.”

“What?”

“Yes, as simple as that,” Jarvis cackled, “Keep me under house-arrest on Christmas Day, and you know I won’t be causing mischief for anyone else on that special day of the year.”

“Afraid I can’t help you,” The Milkman replied, shaking his head, “I’m takin’ the missus to Spain for Christmas this year.  Just the two of us, real romantic like.”

“Oh, I see,” stammered Jarvis, slumping back in his seat, “Well… never mind then.”

“Stay out of trouble, Jarvis.”

With a tip of his hat, The Milkman headed back out of Jarvis Poker’s New Secret Lair, ready to spread his milk of human kindness elsewhere.

It was now just a few days until Christmas, and Jarvis Poker was still without a Christmas invite.  He’d worked his way through the various heroes he knew – Salt of the Earth, Coalface, even the Professional Scotsman (and really, who wants to spend Christmas in Scotland!?) – and they all had excuses.  He then tried to get in touch with the fellow tame trickster villains he was social with – like John, Paul, George and Richard from the First Eleven – but they had all decided to stay in Australia for the holidays after heading out there for the Ashes.  And now Mr. Poker found himself at the bottom of his contact list, preparing to meet up with a genuinely evil, dangerous supervillain.

“Do dinosaurs even celebrate Christmas?”

The entrance to the hideout seemed innocuous enough: a boarded-up door on a seemingly vacant building, in a seedy part of Camden Town.  Jarvis Poker gave the secret knock on the boarded-up door, and a few moments later a hidden panel in the ground beside him slid open, revealing a stairway into the darkness underground.  Hesitantly, Mr. Poker made his way down it, and the panel slid shut above him.

The hideout looked like a subterranean sewer chamber given a home makeover by Colin and Justin off the telly.  The walls and floor were made of ominous old stone, but the gloomy surroundings were spruced up by fluffy shagpile rugs and lava lamps.  And in the centre of it all, lounging in an oversized beanbag chair, was the evil, the terrifying, the dastardly, the monstrous, the cannibalistic, the murderous, the one and only… Death Dinosaur!

“What ho, pip pip!  Why it’s my old mucker, Jarvis Poker!  Spiffing!”

Death Dinosaur was, as ever, dapperly dressed in a slick tuxedo.  He held his trusty cigarette holder between his pointed teeth, a cigarette delicately placed on its end.  Perhaps now, in case there is still any ambiguity left over in spite of his name, it should be made clear that Death Dinosaur is indeed a 7-foot tall green dinosaur.

“Didn’t expect to see you here, old chap,” chuckled Death Dinosaur, “Aren’t you usually busy feeding the poor and donating puppies to orphanages, wot wot wot?”

Jarvis Poker pretended to laugh.  It was important for one’s well-being while in the presence of Death Dinosaur to treat him as if he were a wit.

“Oh ho, not today I’m afraid!” Jarvis laughed, “I was actually here to propose a team-up.”

Death Dinosaur made a dramatic show of standing up, arms stretched outward in an elaborate shrug.

“You, team up with me?  You are but a toothless tribute act to a true criminal mastermind, wot wot wot.  I am a Maracabavarian evil genius!  If Knight is Holmes and Squire is Watson, I am most unequibbly their Morrissey!”

Jarvis Poker didn’t know where to begin.

“Oh, absolutely!” he opted with, “You are Death Dinosaur, that most… toyetic of supervillains!  There is no way I would ever presume to be on your level.  But I merely hoped that, through associating with you, I could perhaps learn a thing or two.”

Death Dinosaur stroked his scaly chin, purring thoughtfully to himself and puffing on his cigarette.

“Hurm… this is true,” he finally replied, “I do suppose it is my duty, as an inspiration to all England’s evil-doers, to pass on my fiendish knowledge like brave Polonius, delivering fire from the gods, wot wot wot.  And in fact, you are most conveniently placed to aid in my nefarious deeds, given your standing in a position of good grace with our mutual Aunt Agathist.”

“Hmmm….yes,” stammered Jarvis, “We should discuss our wicked plans in more detail over Christmas.  I could come over here on Christmas Day, we can share a turkey, exchange some gifts, and plot Knight’s downfall against the backdrop of the annual Uncle Buck re-run on ITV…”

“Ixnay on that…. deainay, old bean,” chortled Death Dinosaur, “I have much better things to be doing on Christmas than hanging around with a total Snoozosaurus like you.  The thought of you as my sole Christmas companion makes me want to be extincted by a falling meteor all over again.”

“Ouch,” Jarvis pouted, “That was a bit harsh.”

“What part of the name ‘Death Dinosaur’ made you think I’d be hesitant to hurt your feelings?”

“…Dinosaur.”

Death Dinosaur tilted his head suspiciously, cigarette smoke puffing through his nostrils and into Mr. Poker’s face.

“Wait a second,” Death Dinosaur hissed nastily, “I know what this is about.  You’re not turning a bad leaf at all, are you?  You’re just such a sad and lonely little man that you’ve resorted to scheming with the likes of me because you’re so afraid of being alone on that magical time of year.  I don’t know what’s more pathetic… your fear of soldertude or this pathetic rouge.”

“Ruse.”

“What?”

Ruse!” snapped Jarvis, “A pathetic ruse!  As opposed to a fear of solitude!  And while we’re talking about pathetic ruses, I just have to tell you that it’s an utterly ridiculous concept for the likes of you to be talking in a posh Etonian accent.”

“Wot wot wot?  Whatever do you mean?”

“Everyone knows you were born and raised in Manchester!”

“Oy!  Shut your mouth, you slag!” growled Death Dinosaur, his crisp, aristocratic tones dropped like a bad habit, “Remember who you’re talking to, sunshine!  Now get out of my sight, or I’ll ‘ave you!”

“Okay!  I’m going, I’m going!”

His hands held up apologetically in the air, Jarvis Poker backed out of the lair, walking back up the stairway and out of the hatch as it opened.  The bad news was that he still had no plans set for Christmas.  But the good news was that he wouldn’t be Death Dinosaur’s Christmas dinner.

Christmas Eve had arrived, and Jarvis Poker was getting desperate.  He had exhausted every contact and poked every so-called friend on Facebook, all to no avail.  Still he was faced with the gloomy prospect of spending Christmas alone.  Drastic action had to be taken!  And so he had set this last-ditch plan into motion, made the necessary calls, and now just had to wait for the door-bell to ring…

Ding-dong!

“Co-miiiiing!”

Mr. Poker skipped (yes, skipped) to the front door of his home, and swung it open.

“Why hello, Squire!”

There she stood, a perky girl in her late teens, grinning cheerfully at Mr. Poker.  There were many superheroes in the world, and many sidekicks too, but few of either camp seemed to take quite as much enjoyment out of what they did as this latest Squire.  Indeed, Jarvis believed it was her relentless optimism that had coaxed Cyril Sheldrake out of that gloomy period in his life, and helped shape him into the Knight he was today.  If Cyril was an even better Knight than his father – and Mr. Poker was beginning to suspect he might be – it was because Beryl Hutchinson was the perfect Squire.

“Alright, Jarvis!  How you doing?  Got a bird yet?”

“I’m grand, Squire.  And no.”

“Got a bloke?”

“Afraid not.”

“Aw, you’re not trying then, are you?”

She playfully elbowed her archenemy in the ribs as she skipped into his hallway and looked around in a kind of exaggerated, open-mouthed awe.

“Aw, Christmas!” she exclaimed, as if discovering the word for the first time, “Look at all the decorations!  Knight told me you thought Christmas was rubbish.  Telling porkies?”

“Yes,” scoffed Jarvis, ushering her further inside and closing the door behind them, “But don’t tell anyone.”

Squire did a little twirl on the spot and turned to face Mr. Poker, clapping her hands together dramatically.

“SO!  What did you ask me down here for, Jarvy-Jarv?  You said it was urgent.”

Clearing his throat and shifting on the spot uncomfortably, Jarvis produced a pair of handcuffs.

“Yes, about that,” he said apologetically, “Could you turn around please?”

Squire looked down at the cuffs and, apparently unfazed, her grin never faltered.

“Oooh, saucy!”

“Very funny, turn around please.”

“Do you use those handcuffs to tie young men to your bedpost?”

“If you could just turn around…”

“But are those your naughty sexy-time handcuffs, though?”

“Squire, turn around!”

“Alright, alright, keep your purple hair on!”

Giggling to herself, Squire turned around and stretched out her hands behind her back.  Mr. Poker reluctantly cuffed her hands together.

“Sorry about this,” he muttered.

“So what are we doing then?” Squire asked chirpily.

“I’m kidnapping you.”

“Oh, right.  Nice!”

Guiding the handcuffed Squire into the living room, Mr. Poker sat her down in an armchair by the fire.  He grabbed some shackles.

“Now, I’m going to tie your legs up,” he explained, “Would it be more comfortable if I took your shoes off first?”

Squire through her head back and let out a booming laugh.

“Hahaha!  You make me laugh!  Sure, why not?”

Mr. Poker took off Squire’s shoes, then shackled her legs together by the ankles.

“Really, I am very sorry for the inconvenience…”

When he was done, he stood up, brushing off his hands.

“Right,” he said, “Would you like a cup of tea?”

While Jarvis Poker was off making tea, Squire could have very easily escaped her restraints, but that would have hurt her host’s feelings, so she remained tied up until Mr. Poker returned with the tea.  Then there was a bit of a kerfuffle with him belatedly realising she couldn’t drink with her hands tied behind her back, so he had uncuffed her (only until she had finished her tea, mind!) after she promised not to try to escape.

“Okay, you’ve kidnapped me,” said Squire, “So what happens now, you nutter?”

Mr. Poker sat down his cup and saucer on the table so he could clasp his hands villainously in front of his face.

“Now?  Now I keep you trapped in my villainous clutches over Christmas, possibly into Boxing Day.”

“Pfffffffffffffffft!”

Squire burst out laughing, slapping her thigh.

“What are you like?” she guffawed, “I can’t be kidnapped over Christmas!  Christmas is a time for family for me, so I have to spend the day with her!”

Mr. Poker smiled, but the comment seemed to make him sad.

“I can understand that,” he replied, “I always spent Christmas with my mother.  Every year…”

He trailed off, leaving things on an uncomfortably downbeat note.  So, he got back into character, steering the conversation in another direction.

“It seems we have a conundrum,” he mused, stroking his chin, “What are we going to do?”

“How about you kidnap my mum too?” Squire helpfully suggested.

Ding-dong!

“I’ll get it,” Jarvis said, jumping to his feet and pausing only to refasten Squire’s handcuffs – this time in front of her rather than behind her back, “So sorry.”

Mr. Poker strode through his hall and swung open his front door.  Knight stood waiting at the entrance, his hands placed impatiently on his hips.

“Why, Knight!” declared Jarvis, “What a surprise!”

“Hello Jarvis,” Knight replied, “Is Squire here?”

“Why yes, I’ve kidnapped her.  You’d best come in.”

Jarvis Poker led Knight into the living room, and presented to him his tied-up sidekick.

“Alright, Knight?  Me and Jarvis were just having a cup of tea…”

Mr. Poker glared at her.

“I mean… help!  Help me, Knight!  Oh, the terror!”

Knight folded his arms, clearly unimpressed.

“Really, I’ve not got time for this, Poker,” he said flatly, “We’re supposed to be putting presents under the tree.”

“If you want your little pal returned in one piece, you have to meet my demands!” Jarvis cackled, following the script in his head, “If you invite me over for Christmas, I shall bring Squire with me, and on Boxing Day, I will release her and make my escape!”

“No,” answered Knight.

“Oh,” stammered Jarvis, knocked off his script already, “Well… I shall release her on Christmas night…”

“No.”

“After Christmas dinner?”

“No, Poker!” snapped Knight, “You just don’t get it!  I tried to be polite, I tried to spare your feelings… but obviously you just can’t take a hint, can you?”

Knight looked down at the floor, apparently regretting his words as soon as he had said them.  He shifted uncomfortably on the spot, as Mr. Poker stared intently at him.

“No, I guess I can’t,” Jarvis replied coldly, “Perhaps you’d best make it clear for me.”

“You’re a villain, Jarvis,” sighed Knight, finding it hard to look his foe in the eye, “Squire and I… we’re heroes.  We’re civil to each other on the first Thursday of the month, because that’s the way it’s always been.  But beyond that… we’re not friends.  I have friends.  They’re who I’ll be spending Christmas with.  I’m sorry.”

For several tense seconds, nothing was said.  Jarvis Poker stood in front of Knight, rigid with anger.  But then he seemed to deflate and crumple, and in a shambling motion, produced a key from his pocket.  Wordlessly, he released Squire from her restraints.  She looked up at the sad old clown sympathetically, then padded across the room to stand by her partner’s side.

“Okay,” Jarvis finally said, “You can leave now.”

Knight paused, as if considering saying something.  He opened his mouth, closed it again, cleared his throat, then walked out of the room, Squire following him.  When he heard the sound of the front door slamming shut, Mr. Poker let out a deep, sorrowful sigh, slumping himself down on the armchair Squire had vacated.  He gazed into the fire, pondering at last the sad reality of spending Christmas alone, and more than that, what that meant.  He was a man, it seemed, who merely existed, an acquaintance to many, but a friend to none.  When it got down to it, there was nobody left that really cared for Jarvis Poker…

“Jarvis?”

Mr. Poker spun around hopefully.  Squire stood in the doorway of the living room, smiling at him.

“Oh, Squire, my dear!” he exclaimed, rushing towards her and wrapping her up in a hug, “You’ve decided to spend Christmas with me after all!  How wonderful!  I promise you won’t regret it!  I’ve got crackers, and the biggest turkey you’ve ever seen…”

“Ummm…. no,” she interjected, “I forgot my shoes.”

Mr. Poker released his embrace and stood back awkwardly.

“Ah,” he mumbled, “Of course.  I was…. just kidding.  A joke, the British Joker, ha ha!”

Squire just smiled and nodded sympathetically.  She put her shoes on, and headed back towards the door.  Before leaving, she looked over her shoulder at him.

“It’s not so bad,” she said, “Sleep on it.  Things might look better in the morning.”

And then she was gone, and Jarvis Poker was all alone all over again.

“Merry Christmas to me.”

Christmas Day.  That most wonderful time of year.  But for Jarvis Poker, it was now just a lonesome day like any other, and so he kept his daily routine with his morning walk.  It had always struck Jarvis as rather funny, that all through the build-up to Christmas, there was noise and spectacle and Christmas songs playing everywhere you went, but step outside on Christmas Day itself, and everything was oddly silent.  That silence was all the more prevalent on this bitter-cold, snowy morning, and he thought about how it was because nobody felt any need to be outside.  Everyone else was indoors, around a tree, spending time with the ones they loved.

Mr. Poker returned home, opening his front door and shambling through his hallway.  He’d bought a few presents for himself.  He decided he might as well open them now.  With a sigh, he pushed open the door, and stepped into his living room…

“MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!”

Jarvis was stunned.  When he had left for his walk, this room had been empty.  Half an hour later, and it was jam-packed full.  Under what had been a bare-looking Christmas tree was a stack of presents, and a makeshift bar with snacks and drinks had been hastily put together.  And every square inch of the large room was teeming with guests.  The Milkman stood arm-in-arm with his wife, both of them grinning and waving at him.  Nearby were several of the other old-school British superheroes, Salt of the Earth already splitting crackers with Coalface.  Even the villains had a respectable turn-out, with a few of the Pirate Astronomers having a spirited discussion over eggnog with, surprisingly enough, Death Dinosaur.  As Mr. Poker momentarily made eye contact with the debonair prehistoric being, Death Dinosaur gave a small nod in his direction.  And standing front and centre, arms outstretched, were Knight and Squire.

“Oh my!” gasped Jarvis, “I… I don’t know how… I thought…”

“Lost for words for once?” laughed Knight, “Let me speak first, then.  I need to start by saying I’m sorry for the way I talked to you yesterday…”

“It’s quite alright…”

“No, it’s not,” continued Knight, “It was hurtful.  But it was an extreme measure.  You kept on making it very hard for us all to throw a surprise party for you.  Villain or not, you’re my friend, Jarvis, and I wanted to make sure this Christmas was a happy one for you.”

“Before we let Knight hog all the credit,” interceded Squire, “I should add that it’s not just us.  Take a look around at all the people who are here for you.  Mingle!  Say hello!  This is your party!”

Still struggling with his words, Jarvis hugged them both, then took Squire’s advice.  As he began greeting guests, two of the first he ran into were the villainous twins, Double Entendre.

“Double Entendre!” exclaimed Jarvis, “I’m so glad you were both able to come.”

“We’re always happy to come,” one of them said, and they always seemed to take turns speaking, “Besides, we didn’t much fancy the prospect of blowing you off.”

The other one ooooohed and eeeeerred.

Mr. Poker circled the room, shaking hands and giving out many a cuddle and a peck on the cheek, until finally he felt a hand on his shoulder.  He turned around to face a grinning Knight.

“Jarvis, I arranged a very special Christmas present for you.  When I told this guy our plans for this party, he couldn’t wait to come all the way from Gotham to meet you at last…”

“Oh em gee, Batman is here!?”

“Ummm….no, he was busy I’m afraid,” replied Knight, “But I went one better.  He’s the guy you’ve always wanted to meet…”

And then, jumping out from behind Knight, dressed in a woolly reindeer-patterned sweater and a santa hat, was The Joker!

“Jarvis Poker, we meet at last!” boomed The Joker, “I must say, you’re a man of good taste!  HA HA!”

“Wow, you brought The Joker over to the UK!” exclaimed Jarvis in surprise, “That’s… actually quite reckless and irresponsible.”

“Oh don’t worry, pal,” replied The Joker in a stage whisper, wrapping an arm around his shoulder, “Honestly, I only really resort to mass murder across the pond because Americans don’t appreciate the subtlety of satire like you Brits do.  While I’m in jolly England I’m on my best behaviour.  Scout’s honour!”

“AHEM!  AHEM!”

The meeting of the two Jokers was interrupted by Squire, standing on a table, tapping a glass of fruit juice overhead.

“I propose a toast!  To Jarvis Poker… for reminding us all, hero and villain alike, that beyond the moral responsibilities, the personal traumas and the plans for world domination… we all do what we do because it’s BLOODY GOOD FUN!”

Then everyone raised their glass in unison.

“TO JARVIS POKER!”

Squire cleared her throat, and let out a belter of a first line of the familiar song.

Foooooooooooooooooor….. he’s a jolly good fellow!

And quickly, everyone else in the room joined in.  As he found himself stood at the heart of a room full of song and laughter, Jarvis Poker felt that old Christmas spirit stirring up within him.  Giving and togetherness didn’t need to be an illusion.  They were real, he felt it, and even if it was only for a day… it made that day a very special day indeed.

“For he’s a jolly good fellow,                                                                                                           For he’s a jolly good fellooooooooooooooooow,                                                                        Which nobody can deny!”

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One thought on “Merry Christmas, Mr. Poker

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